Sunday, May 23, 1999

Rebuilder of cities calls for more culture

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A chat with Laura Long comes with pencil and paper. She furiously draws circles and arrows, circles within circles and a curvy line sort of through the middle (that's the river) on a legal pad as she talks about why arts are good for Cincinnati business.

        The relatively new executive director of the Cincinnati Business Committee was selling “Arts in the Heart,” one more Downtown Cincinnati Inc. promotion for lunch hour on Fountain Square. (Five thousand plastic red hearts filled with prizes and “fun facts!” will be handed out Monday through Friday, and there will be entertainment from noon-1 p.m.)

        What's interesting here is why Ms. Long is spending her time selling this project.

        “I rebuild cities,” Ms. Long has been telling groups around town. “I make them functional financially.” Rule one is growing a city's “capital.”

        Ms. Long, former economic development director for Newport, believes culture is one of the best ways to “grow capital,” that using cultural and tourist attractions to rebuild a downtown's viability works. (Example: Newport Aquarium).

        Arts in the Heart, she says, “is a start. I wanted to see something in spring. The regional cultural planning report has come out, the Fine Arts Fund reached a new goal. I didn't want to lose the momentum.”

        Which brings us back to Ms. Long's persuasive, pencil-illustrated talk. She figures Cincinnati has the cultural building blocks. “So how do we increase awareness?” she asks. “There are 75,000 office workers downtown every day.” She figures Fountain Square and plastic hearts are a start.

        “In real estate, it's "location, location, location,' ” she says. For cultural attractions, “it's marketing, marketing, marketing.”

        These days she's asking herself (and just about everybody she meets) some interesting questions: How is the region going to forge relationships between downtown and the surrounding suburbs? How does one best use the riverfront as the magnet?

        “If (the arts) are raising money but not filling seats, what are we accomplishing?”

        Why now? The week preceding Memorial Day is a lousy time for this promotion because the local arts calendar mostly runs from September through May. Most organizations have finished their year.

        Ms. Long says she wants to see another project for fall. “I don't have answers yet. It will evolve.”

        Part of what we'll all see is an October conference sponsored by University of Cincinnati's arts administration program.

        Ms. Long is on the six-member steering committee; so is Mayor Roxanne Qualls. Speakers will be coming in from Charlotte, Pittsburgh and Denver, all cities that figure as competitors for Greater Cincinnati. The working title: The Arts: An Urban Business Strategy.

        With heavy hitters among the conference planners, watch for more than usual attention from the corporate community.


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